Domonique Martin PT, DPT
Board Certified Sports Clinical Specialist
For many, cooler temperatures mean lacing up skates, strapping on ski boots, and hopping on sleds. Winter is a time to participate in both recreational and competitive sports performed on snow or ice. Each year in the United States it is estimated 9.7 million people participate in ice-skating and 17 million people participate in snowboarding and snow-skiing.1,4 With the Winter Olympic Games in 2022, the interest in winter sports is expected to increase.
Winter sports are a great way to stay active during the colder months, but along with these great times come winter sports injuries that could be prevented with the right precautions.
Almost 200,000 people are seen in emergency departments each year for injuries related to winter sports. 7,000 of those cases require hospitalization.2 Beginner skiers are often injured by accidental falls, while more experienced skiers and snowboarders are most commonly injured from jumps.2
This figure includes:
- 76,000 injuries from snow skiing
- 53,000 injuries from snowboarding
- 48,000 injuries from ice skating
- 22,000 injuries from sledding
Because of the speed, quick changes in direction, and risk for falls, the following injuries are common in winter sports:
- Knee ligament sprains or tears: Knee sprains make up approximately 30% of all ski-related injuries. When the knee is twisted or moves out of its normal position, ligaments such as the medial collateral ligament (MCL) or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) can be stretched or torn.
- Meniscus tears: Sharp pivoting on the knee can lead to injuries in the cartilage in the knee, specifically the meniscus located between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). Meniscus tears can be painful and limit the knee’s ability to bend or straighten.
- Wrist fractures and sprains: The wrist and forearm are vulnerable to injury when participants reach out to brace a fall. Wrist guards worn while snowboarding can help to protect the wrists.
- Head injuries: Concussions and skull fractures can occur during many winter sports as a result of falls or collisions. Most of these injuries occur during skiing or snowboarding with a third of these injuries being children. Concussions can present with symptoms including headache, dizziness, nausea, and confusion. Wearing a helmet during winter sports has been found to decrease the risk of skull fracture.
Many of these injuries happen at the end of the day when people overexert themselves to finish that one last run before the day’s end.
WINTER SPORTS SAFETY TIPS
Sports enthusiasts don’t need to hang up their skates just yet. Most winter sports injuries can easily be prevented if participants prepare for their sport by keeping in good physical condition, staying alert, and stopping when they are tired or in pain.
Check out these tips to help prevent winter sports injuries:
- Prepare your body for activity. Prior to participating in winter sports spend 4-6 weeks building the strength of your core, hips, and legs. Fatigue of these muscle groups can lead to poor technique and result in injury. Aerobic training such as brisk walking, elliptical, ski machines can also help to prepare your cardiovascular system for long periods of winter activity.
- Consult an expert. Instructional classes and demonstrations on winter sports can be worthwhile in preventing injury. Not only can instructors give tips on technique, they can also help with selecting appropriate equipment and ski/ snowboard slope levels.
- Take time to warm up. Although these are cold-weather sports, your muscles shouldn’t be cold when taking part in them. Take 5 minutes to perform dynamic exercises (squats, lunges, wrist circles, trunk rotations, leg swings) to get the blood moving.
- Stay hydrated. Just like in any other sport, your body needs water to perform well. When it’s cold out, you also may not notice how much you are sweating. Take breaks to re-hydrate and rest to limit fatigue-related injuries and illnesses. Playing sports at a higher elevation can also lead to dehydration as well making staying hydrated even more important.
- Be aware and alert. Participating in winter sports when tired may increase the risk of injury. Take breaks and recharge. Stay aware of other people around you and also keep an eye out for marked trails and other signs.
- See a physical therapist. Minor aches and pains can lead to major injuries if not treated. Physical therapists can work with you to develop a program to prepare for your winter sports as well as assess and treat any injuries sustained during these activities.
- Associate NSA. National skier and snowboarder visits, 2011–1979. https://nsaa.org/webdocs/Media_Public/IndustryStats/Historical_Skier_Days_1979_2021
- Fu, X., Du, L., Song, Y., Chen, H., & Shen, W. (2020). Incidence of injuries in professional snow sports: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sport and health science.
- Summers, Z., Teague, W. J., Hutson, J. M., Palmer, C. S., Jowett, H. E., & King, S. K. (2017). The spectrum of pediatric injuries sustained in snow sports. Journal of pediatric surgery, 52(12), 2038-2041.
- Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Ice Skating Participation Reports 2019. https://www.sfia.org/reports/732_Ice-Skating-Participation-Report-2019
- American Physical Therapy Association. Tips to Prevent Skiing-Related Knee Injuries. Choose PT. https://www.choosept.com/health-tips/tips-exercises-prevent-skiing-related-knee-injuries